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This website is about Brazilian jiu jitsu (BJJ). I'm a black belt who started in 2006, teaching and training at Artemis BJJ in Bristol, UK. All content ©Can Sönmez

10 November 2010

10/11/2010 - Gracie Barra Bristol

Class #358
Gracie Barra Bristol, (BJJ), Nicolai 'Geeza' Holt, Bristol, UK - 11/10/2010

My gf was doing some work-related training, so that meant I had another opportunity to pop down to the class at Gracie Barra Bristol. I was heading over directly after getting off the Megabus from London, so had to work out where to go from the centre of town. Google Maps handily doesn't tell you which random road you take to get down from Colston Hall, so I managed to wander round in a circle a few times, before realising it was Zed Alley (like the Christmas Steps, this cuts through to the town centre).

I'd thought I would be late, running some of the way, but arrived at roughly the same time as Geeza, who has the keys to the club. Construction has begun since I was last there, which gives me a further indication of just how incredibly huge the new gym will be. There is still a reasonable chunk of car park left for your car, though I will probably be cycling or walking once I eventually move to Bristol (especially as I still haven't bothered learning how to drive, though I think I'm going to have to finally join the adult world in that respect once I move down here.)

After the warm-up, Geeza had us move directly into specific sparring, from guard. So, coupled with running to class and then running round the mats, I was definitely feeling warm! No bad thing, as the weather has been pretty cold recently, so you could feel the chill on your bare feet from the mats.

Geeza handily texts everybody before each class to say what he'll be teaching that night, so I already knew we'd be doing back escapes and spider guard sweeps. However, he began technique with a takedown, which is something Roger does as well. You start from the usual collar and sleeve grip, then take a step back to get them to step forward (this should be the leg on the same side as your collar grip).

Once they step, thread your same side leg into that space, putting your knee on the mat behind their leg. Drop down, hanging heavily off that collar you're still holding, then drive forward to knock them backwards. Don't follow them down, but try to maintain good posture (I was basing off their stomach). Apparently this is a good takedown for small guys like me, so something I might have to try (though I think I'll almost certainly just pull guard when I give competition another go).

Interestingly, Geeza does the same thing as Roy Dean when teaching technique, in that he has everybody line up by the wall, rather than the usual huddle. That has the disadvantage of restricting your view, although that is easily counter-acted by showing the technique from several angles. It fits with the traditional flavour Geeza brings to his classes, bowing to a picture of Carlos etc at the beginning.

The next technique, rather handily given my struggles yesterday, was an escape from the back where you pull on their arm. You start from all fours (what Cane Prevost calls the quarter position: turtle would be another common term), where they have one hook in, and are also gripping around your neck with the same side arm, feeding their other hand under your armpit.

First, use your hand on the non-hooked side to grab the arm they have around your neck. With your other arm, base out forwards on your elbow. On your non-hooked side, you can also use your elbow to prevent them getting their foot in: you'll also need to step up your leg on that side. From here, start shrugging them off your back, which should cause them to slip off on the hooking side.

An important detail here is to make sure that on the hooked side, you keep your elbow outside their knee. Otherwise, they'll still be able to take your back. Once you've shrugged them off to the ground, pull on their arm and drive forwards. Either shove your head under their other arm, or over the top, depending on their grip on your neck. You can then settle into top half guard, cross-facing them.

The final technique was a sweep from spider guard. You've moved to spider guard, and they have stood up. One foot is pressed into their same side bicep, stretching it out, while also gripping their sleeve with your same side hand. Your other foot is going to hook around the front of their opposite knee. This feels a bit counter-intuitive, but the reason is to stop them moving around that side (they can't go the other way, because your foot into the bicep means you can just sweep them if they do). Hook your free hand around their same side foot, using that to swivel parallel to them, your hips close to their feet.

From here, break their posture by pulling their sleeve down and pushing out with your foot, until finally you can kick out over your outside shoulder. Again, this position feels slightly weird: if you're having trouble getting the leverage, try shrimping towards their legs, as you can then push out further. If they decide to try and pass from there, that just makes your sweep easier: they've now put themselves into exactly the position you want.

Sparring was run the same way as the sparring class, with everybody lined up around the mat. If you are on your knees, you're saying you want to spar, if not, then you want to sit out. Geeza paired people up, mainly going by size and experience, as far as I could tell. I had a chance to try Howard's tip on using the head when trying to pass from half guard, but I think I may have still had my hips too high.

I didn't try it again later, when in that position with Luke (which is exactly the place I constantly find myself with Howard). Next time, I need to just go for it, while keeping control of their hips so they can't simply shrimp away and go to their knees (which is what Luke did). Luke in particular was great to roll with, as he maintained a very steady pace, focusing on smooth transitions rather than crushing and smashing with strength.

During the line-up, one of the white belts wondered why BJJ didn't generally practice against multiple opponents, as is common in TMAs like karate. He dropped himself in it, as Geeza immediately responded that he should feel free to try, meaning that the rest of the class was treated to an entertaining display of two-on-one sparring. Even better, this led Geeza to make a speech after the round had finished, on the topic of sport and self defence: I particularly enjoyed that, as it fits closely to my own views on the subject.

Geeza emphasised that he teaches sport BJJ, but that 85% of those techniques are perfectly applicable to a real situation. He also stressed that competition and class are two different things, because in competition, you're both just looking for the win. In class, it's about learning, and there may be a whole multitude of reasons you find yourself on the mat that day. Finally, he made the sensible comment that when it comes to self defence and multiple attackers, basically you should get the hell out of there and run, which is invariably the best option in a 'real' fight.

I'm not sure when I'll make it down again, but hopefully in the not-too-distant future. It will be cool to see how far construction has come along next time I make it to Bristol training.


  1. I just had the same experience with the wall lineup my 1st time at a Gracie Barra school recently.

    Kind of funny, but during a sparring class, while we were lined up against the wall the instructor kept asking me if I wanted to sit out the next round-- I told him I was good to go-- I figured he was asking because I was the new guy and he wanted to make sure I was I realize that it might have been because I wasn't on my knees! Now I'll know for next class.

  2. Interesting: I assumed Geeza had taken a few pointers from GB HQ, but perhaps it is more than I thought.

    When I wanted to sit out, I made it especially obvious by scribbling pointedly on my notepad. ;)